The Australian Catholic Women's Colloquium 2019

Catholic women's colloquium

The Australian Catholic Women's Colloquium was held in Adelaide from February 22–24. Titled ‘Stirring the Waters’. 160 women from across Australia attended the conference that was convened by the Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW). In this article, the inspirational Andrea Dean, Director of the National Office for the Participation of Women, shares some insights about the Colloquium.

The role of the Council for Australian Catholic Women

Established in December 2000 by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and driven by findings of the Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus research project, the CACW aims to promote the participation of women in the Catholic Church of Australia. They work with the bishops of Australia to help ensure the voices of women are heard in decision-making, leadership and ministry.

The Australian Catholic Women's Colloquium marked the 20th anniversary of the report with the event continuously aiming to engage with the framework of Plenary 2020. The Plenary council is committed to the future of the Catholic Church in Australia and looks at ways to help create an inclusive, synodal, missionary, merciful, prayerful and discerning community.

Andrea’s insights

The Colloquium’s opening session was titled ‘Looking Back–Looking Forward: Celebrating Women and 20 years of Woman and Man.’

“This involved a dialogue between Ms Geraldine Hawkes, inaugural Chair of the Commission for Australian Catholic Women, and Dr Sandie Cornish, one of the researchers involved in the Woman and Man report. Both were eminently qualified and excellent speakers, who involved the participants,” explains Andrea.

“Participants had to cast their minds back to the year 2000, when, following the release of the research report, the Australian bishops recommended 31 proposals for implementation at the diocesan level. While participants acknowledged that progress had been made in some areas such as ‘a better balance of men and women, clergy, and laity on existing councils, organisations and advisory bodies’, there was disappointment about a lack of progress on others such as ‘the drawing up of guidelines concerning the use of inclusive language in the liturgy, prayer, pastoral and social life of the church.”

A keynote presentation exploring ‘Synodality and Inclusion’, one of the frameworks for the Plenary 2020, was given by Dr Michele Connolly RSJ, a lecturer in Catholic Studies at the Sydney Catholic Institute.  

“Michele’s expertise is in the Gospel of Mark. In her commentary on the role of women in Mark, she described women as making ‘cameo appearances’ and ‘never continuing from one scene to the next’ nor ‘having the capacity to influence outcomes’. ‘Few women speak in Mark,’ she reflected, and ‘when they do they cause problems for men!’ She wondered how the gospel might be an analogy for our current situation. It was a paper delivered with great skill and humour and Sr Michele encouraged all participants to make submissions to the Plenary Council.”

Another keynote presentation was delivered by Ms Debra Zanella, the Director/CEO of Ruah Community Services in Perth. They are an organisation that provides services principally in the areas of mental health, homelessness and housing, family and domestic violence.

“She spoke from her experience of a project, not to just manage homelessness but to end it. A project that the Government of Western Australia joined after the initiative began. She spoke of the challenges in delivering community services to vulnerable and disadvantaged people. She also alluded to the inspiration she found in her life from other women and the writings of both Pope Francis and Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Workshops were also part of the Colloquium program. “Workshops engaged with the experiences of refugees, indigenous people and the homeless – each involving guest presenters from those backgrounds. Another round of workshops focused on preparing girls and women for leadership, the places where women currently contribute to the Australian Catholic Church, the history of women’s leadership, and the possibility of the Church being more open to multicultural experiences of faith.”

The final morning of the conference was devoted to a panel of women from the Executive Committee of the Plenary Council. “These included Ms Lana Turvey-Collins, the Facilitator of the Plenary Council, Ms Sarah Moffatt, Assistant Director to the Chancellor (Adelaide Diocese), Ms Teresa Simon from the Maronite Church and Ms Deborah Sayce, Director of Catholic Education in WA.

“Lana invited all to participate in a reflective process and to contribute to a Plenary submission. It was particularly beneficial to meet with Ms Turvey-Collins, who is passionate about the Plenary process and its potential for renewing the Australian Catholic Church.”

Andrea muses, “Although the conference started on a note of disappointment regarding the unfilled hopes of 20 years ago, it concluded on a note of hope.”

How sponsorship helps

Of the 160 women who attended the Colloquium in 2019, at least 20 received financial support from sponsors, which included CCI Personal Insurance. “For the first time, the financial support of CCI enabled a young woman with significant disabilities to participate. Lisa Chen is deaf and has limited sight. She needs a carer and Auslan interpreters who can work closely to enable her participation,” explains Andrea.

“A focus of the Colloquium is subsidising the costs for women from remote areas of Australia and from dioceses who are struggling financially, especially those impacted by drought. Two women from Wilcannia Forbes Diocese, Kate Englebrecht and Mary Anne Gordon, jumped at the opportunity to attend. Mary Anne said ‘the vibrancy of the women attending the Colloquium is incredible, I’m returning to my work in the central west of New South Wales with new hope. I deeply value the financial support offered by Catholic Church Insurance. I can pass on the hope that I’ve been given to the people I meet with in my rural ministry’.”


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